Johnny Gill - Game Changer (2014)

Johnny Gill
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Easy on the eyes, honey to the ears and blessed with a vocal range that can go from the dance floor to a devotional, Johnny Gill has been an R&B mainstay now for three decades. Whether he's crooned alongside Stacy Lattisaw, buttressed the adult era for New Edition or enriched the cool carnality of LSG, his robust baritone is a force that cannot be denied. But given that today's entertainment market often panders to under 40-ish performers with overt marketing umph or sex appeal, Mr. Gill's dilemma---a steady, if not spectacular presence---is the equivalent of being a big fish in a small pond (not quite old enough for Urban AC, too 'seasoned' for heartthrob territory, etc.). Knowing his limits, tweaking them and stretching out here and there - but not a complete transformation - is what Johnny Gill accomplishes on his seventh CD, Game Changer.

Easy on the eyes, honey to the ears and blessed with a vocal range that can go from the dance floor to a devotional, Johnny Gill has been an R&B mainstay now for three decades. Whether he's crooned alongside Stacy Lattisaw, buttressed the adult era for New Edition or enriched the cool carnality of LSG, his robust baritone is a force that cannot be denied. But given that today's entertainment market often panders to under 40-ish performers with overt marketing umph or sex appeal, Mr. Gill's dilemma---a steady, if not spectacular presence---is the equivalent of being a big fish in a small pond (not quite old enough for Urban AC, too 'seasoned' for heartthrob territory, etc.). Knowing his limits, tweaking them and stretching out here and there - but not a complete transformation - is what Johnny Gill accomplishes on his seventh CD, Game Changer.

Stepping back into the studio with a mix of old and new collaborators (Babyface, Chuck Harmony, Claude Kelly), the Washington DC native pours his vocals across an assortment of mid-tempos, bedtime ballads and even a dance track (more on that later)----he's bold and blustering on "What Is This," an indulgent slow jam that glides from sweet seduction to vocal runs that would make Luther proud as he demands she "take it" while "test[ing] that bed frame" (well well). "This One's For Me & You," A Philly-styled throwback featuring New Edition, is melody-rich and well-executed, as is the single "Behind Closed Doors," which treats listeners to a generous heaping of that elastic falsetto and a sexy demand to lose the dress, keep the heels on and .......ahem, you already know. Let the games begin. 

But since going the distance in a relationship is about more than just the Erotica Olympics (or should be for those who are 40+), Johnny displays awe and infatuation as well, glib and practically gushing on "Strung Out," fiercely funking it out 80s-style in "Role Play" and admitting that his Player's Card is down for retirement in the title track, co-penned by fellow R&B veteran Babyface: "Used to run around, always hangin' out in them streets/I was on the prowl, tryna' take down everything I would meet." "Gonna Cost," another standout co-penned by Vidal Davis, describes the angst and ecstasy of tasting the forbidden fruit but needing to leave before succumbing to full-on addiction: "I know when you look at me, all you see is you man.....but I don't want to lose my family," Gill laments. 

Not all of the numbers live up to the promise of the title----"Your Body" feels remotely rendered, "5000 Miles" trades placidity for passion and the lone techno-driven shot at a dance track, "Guinevere," earns points for diverging from Johnny's regular repertoire but accomplishes little else. But what Gill does accomplish with Game Changer is remind listeners that he can still serve it up with swerve. Winning isn't always about who crosses the finish line first: sometimes, it's simply a matter of keeping the skills on-deck to endure, place favorably, and return time and again as a contender worth rooting for. Recommended.

By Melody Charles 

 

 
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